Darkness and Dawn Book I: The Vacant World
Chapter 26: Beatrice Dares
An hour later, Stern and Beatrice sat weak and shaken in their stronghold on the fifth floor, resting, trying to gather up some strength again, to pull together for resistance to the siege that had set in.
With the return of reason to the engineer--his free bleeding had somewhat checked the onset of fever--and of consciousness to the girl, they began to piece out, bit by bit, the stages of their retreat.
Now that Stern had barricaded the stairs, two stories below, and that for a little while they felt reasonably safe, they were able to take their bearings, to recall the flight, to plan a bit for the future, a future dark with menace, seemingly hopeless in its outlook.
“If it--hadn’t been for you,” Beatrice was saying, “if you hadn’t picked me up and carried me, when that stone struck, I--I--”
“How’s the ache now?” Stern hastily interrupted, in a rather weak yet brisk voice, which he was trying hard to render matter-of-fact. “Of course the lack of water, except that half-pint or so, to bathe your bruise with, is a rank barbarity. But if we haven’t got any, we haven’t--that’s all. All--till we have another go at ‘em!”
“Oh, Allan!” she exclaimed, tremulously. “Don’t think of me! Of me, when your back’s gashed with a spear-cut, your head’s battered, arm pierced, and we’ve neither water nor bandages--nothing of any kind to treat your wounds with!”
“Come now, don’t you bother about me!” he objected trying hard to smile, though racked with pain. “I’ll be O. K., fit as a fiddle, in no time. Perfect health and all that sort of thing, you know. It’ll heal right away.
“Head’s clear again already, in spite of that whack with the war-club, or whatever it was they landed with. But for a while I certainly was seeing things. I had ‘em--had ‘em bad! Thought--well, strange things.
“My back? Only a scratch, that’s all. It’s begun to coagulate already, the blood has, hasn’t it?” And he strove to peer over his own shoulder at the slash. But the pain made him desist. He could hardly keep back a groan. His face twitched involuntarily.
The girl sank on her knees beside him. Her arm encircled him; her hand smoothed his forehead; and with a strange look she studied his unnaturally pale face.
“It’s your arm I’m thinking about, more than anything,” said she. “We’ve got to have something to treat that with. Tell me, does it hurt you very much, Allan?”
He tried to laugh, as he glanced down at the wounded arm, which, ligatured about the spear-thrust with a thong, and supported by a rawhide sling, looked strangely blue and swollen.
“Hurt me? Nonsense! I’ll be fine and dandy in no time. The only trouble is, I’m not much good as a fighter this way. Southpaw, you see. Can’t shoot worth a--a cent, you know, with my left. Otherwise, I wouldn’t mind.”
“Shoot? Trust me for that now!” she exclaimed. “We’ve still got two revolvers and the shotgun left, and lots of ammunition. I’ll do the shooting--if there’s got to be any done!”
“You’re all right, Beatrice!” exclaimed the wounded man fervently. “What would I do without you? And to think how near you came to--but never mind. That’s over now; forget it!”
“Yes, but what next?”
“Don’t know. Get well, maybe. Things might be worse. I might have a broken arm, or something; laid up for weeks--slow starvation and all that. What’s a mere puncture? Nothing! Now that the spear’s out, it’ll begin healing right away.
“Bet a million, though, that What’s-His-Name down there, Big Chief the Monk, won’t get out of his scrape in a hurry. His face is certainly scrambled, or I miss my guess. You got him through the ear with one shot, by the way. Know that? Fact! Drilled it clean! Just a little to the right and you’d have had him for keeps. But never mind, we’ll save him for the encore--if there is any.”
“You think they’ll try again?”
“Can’t say. They’ve lost a lot of fighters, killed and wounded, already. And they’ve had a pretty liberal taste of our style. That ought to hold them for a while! We’ll see, at any rate. And if luck stays good, we’ll maybe have a thing or two to show them if they keep on hanging round where they aren’t wanted!”
Came now a little silence. Beside Stern the girl sat, half supporting his wounded body with her firm, white arm. Thirst was beginning to torment them both, particularly Stern, whose injuries had already given him a marked temperature. But water there was absolutely none. And so, still planless, glad only to recuperate a little, content that for the present the Horde had been held back, they waited. Waiting, they both thought. The girl’s thoughts were all of him; but he, man-fashion, was trying to piece out what had happened, to frame some coherent idea of it all, to analyze the urgent necessities that lay upon them both.